Societal trends have focused on complexity and speed. However, an interesting discovery has been made: “Today, complexity has become the silent killer of profitable growth in business, and sometimes of CEO careers.” It is interesting that organizations are now seeking simplicity to become successful
(https://hbr.org/2012/02/desperately-seeking-simplicity/). As individuals, we are burying
ourselves with complexity and it is not healthy. It causes too much confusion and along with too many choices, the result is “analysis paralysis” and stress. We are hearing more and more people say: “Let’s slow down and keep it simple.” Going hand-in-hand with making things simple, we don’t need to get bogged down in making everything perfect either. Imperfection and simplicity are becoming appealing concepts. Here is a term that embraces these two concepts; it is called “wabi sabi.” We have heard this term in describing home decor, but I would like to explore how wabi sabi represents a mindset that perhaps will help us live less stressful lives.
Wabi sabi has been described as “appreciating the beauty in the naturally imperfect world,” but it is a Japanese term that doesn’t have a literal translation, so there have been many attempts to define it, none of which captures the Zen-like qualities of the term. A loose translation of wabi is “elegant or rustic simplicity” and sabi represents the “beauty of age and wear” (Wabi Sabi Simple: Create Beauty, Value Imperfection, Live Deeply by Richard R. Powell). Certainly as we grow older, it’s refreshing to hear about a philosophy that finds beauty in the wear and tear of aging!
In wabi sabi, nothing is constant; in it’s purest form we accept the natural cycles in life, so that we appreciate the process of aging. This is not a concept that our American culture embraces, since we tend to idolize everything related to youthfulness. We want to pamper and take care of our bodies, but the mindset is not about perfection. Instead, another element of wabi sabi is authenticity. In contrast to promoting our current industry of plastic surgery, there is a longing for something deeper than pure white teeth, perfect skin, and getting our bodies nipped and tucked.
Instead of a “stuffy formalism” in our everyday lives, we have permission to embrace the handmade and natural, even if imperfect and irregular, like our much-loved piece of pottery that is cracked and uneven in shape – something that we cherish to look at as we fill it with flowers from our garden (www.wisebread.com/book-review-wabi-sabi-simple). We all know about the evolution of some of our favorite recipes, which results from the missing ingredients. My husband’s favorite pie was a product of one of my pie-making days without enough peaches and I had to improvise. When it comes to clothing, why be forced into buying the latest brand-named items, when we can enjoy our frayed, but favorite, sweater or comfy shoes. My brother found the most fantastic “distressed” leather jacket while browsing through a goodwill store one afternoon.
Wabi sabi also demonstrates life’s contradictions and contrasting moments. Falling snow can be blinding and dangerous while driving in a storm and yet the beauty in the same snowfall can take our breath away. We all know how frustrating it was to clean up after our small children and yet how we miss those dirty fingerprints on our walls when our children go off to college. In a poem, by Michele Root-Bernstein, she describes “the hush of a concert hall” during a powerful musical performance as: “that instant between the end of the last note and the beginning of thunderous applause” (www.stillinthestream.com). So, although wabi sabi may represent the simplicity in life, the concept conjures up both the deep and intuitive moments in life, as well as the “big picture” experiences.
In our relationships, it’s best to start in a place where we accept that human beings are imperfect. It’s not wabi sabi to lower our expectations, but rather it’s best to appreciate the flaws in each other and accept that we are mortal and “unfinished” (Whole Living: Body & Soul in Balance, October 2010). The songwriter, Leonard Cohen, cleverly explains the idea in his poetic verse: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Although, we should be careful about exploiting the term and becoming too “wabi sloppy” in our lives, it may be refreshing to step back from the complexity that we have developed and make our lives more meaningful (http://nobleharbor.com/tea/chado/WhatIsWabi-Sabi.htm). It may be helpful for all of us to introduce wabi sabi in our work setting and daily living. It means being mindful of simplicity, reflection, acceptance, relaxation, and the enjoyment of the incomplete and imperfect beauty in everyday life.
Perhaps wabi-sabi will benefit your health and wellness as you seek to reduce stress by living more simply and less perfect. It is interesting how paths cross in life: growing up in America and becoming a nurse, I have been embracing a Japanese philosophy, which I didn’t even know about at the time. Being a novice on the subject, I have not given this term the justice that it’s due in this article, but at least I am attempting to live a little bit of wabi sabi.